It is in the opening verses of this week’s Torah reading, Chaye Sarah, however, that the true importance of hachnasat orchim in Abraham’s life becomes apparent. Struggling in the wake of Sarah’s death, Abraham goes about purchasing a grave-site for her from the local tribe, the Hittites or B’nei Cheit. Abraham refers to himself as a “ger v’toshav,” the equivalent of a “resident alien,” dwelling on land but not permanently attached to it, a stranger in a strange land. Eventually, Abraham is successful at purchasing the land, the cave of Machpelah, which would become the resting place for three generations of our ancestors. Yet we know that even the acquisition of the burial plots does not allow Abraham to feel at home in this foreign land (and the land which God promised him and his descendants): immediately following the transaction Abraham sends his servant back to his ancestral homeland in order to find a wife for Isaac. Even the powerful act of acquiring land in his new home fails to achieve what we might expect; he remains a foreigner.
The implications here are fascinating to articulate and ponder if not so surprising: God effects a connection between Abraham’s offspring and the land while simultaneously setting up an eternal dynamic of Otherness between Abraham’s descendants and those of the nations living on that promised land. Abraham may be our ideal embodiment of someone who welcomes guests exactly because he never felt welcomed himself.
At Camp Ramah in Wisconsin we strive to be a welcoming camp and community. Each summer, we welcome approximately 140 new campers into camp and dozens of new staff members, including the majority of our mishlachat (Israeli delegation). One of the great strengths of our institution – longstanding familial ties to Ramah – at times poses a challenge. How can we best welcome new members of our Ramah family while maximizing Ramah’s ability to play meaningful, active roles in the lives of our alumni and veteran families?
This question is on my mind this week, on the heels of my first national camping conference as a Camp Director and as I continue my recruitment visits in Omaha and Kansas City, seeking to bring new families to Ramah. These families, occasionally, are Ramahniks who have moved geographically and are exploring a new chapter in their family’s Jewish journey. More often, our prospective families are wholly new to Ramah, attracted by our commitment to a vibrant, modern, traditional Judaism and the top-notch product we offer our campers and their parents. They have heard about Ramah from their child’s friend, or from a dedicated educational professional in the synagogue or day school, or from Ramah parents and alumni who share their enthusiasm.
This week, I ask you to help us in two ways to improve our culture of hachnasat orchim. First, please share your thoughts on how we can get better at welcoming and creating a warm environment for families, veteran and new. Second, please consider helping us find new guests to camp by speaking to your friends, the parents of your children’s friends, and your synagogue professionals about the amazing potential rewards a family’s investment in Ramah can reap. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions on both topics at firstname.lastname@example.org.